AEGIS was formed in 1990 as the Atlanta Educational Gender Information Service, but it soon became apparent its mission was national in scope, and I changed the first word to American. AEGIS soon achieved IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. I served as executive director from 1990-1998.
The American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc. (AEGIS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit clearinghouse for transsexual and transgender issues. AEGIS actively supports the professionalization and standardization of services for transgendered persons; promotes non‑judgmental, non‑discriminatory treatment of persons with gender issues; advocate respect for their dignity, their right to treatment, and their right to choose their gender role; helps transgendered persons make reasoned and informed decisions about the ways in which they will live their lives; and provides educational materials, information, and referrals.
As difficult as it might be to believe, when AEGIS’ mission statement was written in 1989 it was past the cutting edge. No one, so far as I know, had ever specifically asked that we be treated with dignity and respect or that the services supplied us be professional and standardized or that we were entitled to choose our gender role.
By the mid-1990s the mission statement was no longer outrageous. It had become like, duh! That’s how fast, thanks to the efforts of AEGIS and other trans organizations, things were changing. We had done what few nonprofits do—realized our goal! It was time to wind the organization down or to set new goals. We chose to transform from a brick-and-mortar, paper-and-stamps nonprofit to a web-based entity and changed our name to Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.
AEGIS was the formal successor to J2CP, a West Coast-based information service operated in the mid-to-late 1980s by Joanna Clark (known during her years as an Episcopal nun as Sister Mary Elizabeth) and Jude Patton. Clark, who had become the moving force in another AEGIS (AIDS Education and Global Information System), formally passed the baton in 1993.
Joanna Clark and Jude Patton, 1982
Jude and Joanna had taken on the not inconsiderable responsibility of providing education about transsexualism from the late psychologist Paul Walker, who operated the Janus Information Facility. Walker, who was founding President of HBIGDA, had in turn taken over that responsibility when The Erickson Educational Foundation, which was formed in 1964, wound down its operations in the late 1970s.
Thus, AEGIS continued a nearly 3o-year-long tradition of providing services to transsexuals.
When I launched AEGIS in 1990 it was my intention to continue an exclusive focus upon transsexualism. By that time, however, there was substantive change in the air and the term transgender was gaining in popularity. I broadened the scope and used the term transgender in the mission statement because I realized people needed information, legal protections, and medical care regardless of the labels they chose to use.
- Membership with general, professional, student, and correctional categories and categories for our financial benefactors.
- We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, so donations are tax deductible under IRS codes.
- Maintain a 30+ member advisory board, the members of which we consult regularly about important medical‑related and social issues.
- Provide free information about transgender and transsexual issues
- Free referrals to helping professionals and support groups via US Mail, telephone, FAX, or e‑mail.
- Publish the bi‑annual journal Chrysalis
- Publish a quarterly newsletter for members (AEGIS News)
- Produce an annual newsletter for the Transgender Historical Society (Shhh! The Newsletter of the National Transgender Library & Archive)
- A bi‑annual newsletter for helping professionals (Transgender Treatment Bulletin)
- Maintain an extensive database of helping professionals and support groups (about 2700 entries). The database is updated daily.
- Maintain an extensive bibliography of trans‑related materials (more than 6500 items), available in hardback as D. Denny (1994). Gender Dysphoria: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland Publishers. The bibliography is updated daily.
- Maintain a mail-order bookstore (60+ titles). The bookstore can also be taken to conferences.
- Maintain and grow the National Transgender Library & Archive—the largest publicly available collection of trans‑related material in the world and maybe the universe. The NTL&A contains historical material dating back to the early 1900’s, including sheet music, postcards, newsletters, magazines, journals, memorabilia, and books. The collection currently fills two rooms.
- Maintain a staffed telephone help line and an automated system that allows callers to listen to over 100 pre‑recorded messages, and will FAX‑back referral information.
- Offer affiliation to other organizations; we currently have two affiliated groups.
- Publish periodic health advisories and position papers
- Publish educational pamphlets, flyers,and booklets
- Hold free or low‑cost educational seminars about trans issues
- Write letters in support of transpersons at work and in legal battles
- Provide amicus curae briefs for selected court cases
- Provide consultation to helping professionals RE their trans clients
- Maintain an FTP site on the internet with several hundred files, including back issues of Chrysalis
- Publish AEGIS NEWS, a trans‑related newsfeed distributed bi-weekly on the internet.
- Distribute GENDER HELP, an electronic mailing list for health and transition-related issues.
Some Facts About AEGIS
- We are a founding member of GenderPAC.
- We are a founding member of Transgender Alliance for Community.
- We were a founding member of Southern Comfort.
- We provided the initial impetus and seed money for the first FTM Conference of the Americas.
- We were a sponsor of the 1st International Congress on Cross‑Dressing, Sex, and Gender Issues.
- We started the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group, which has been in operation since 1990 and which has seen hundreds of people through exploration and gender transition.
- We conduct research projects; results are routinely published in books or professional journals.
- We have made hundreds of presentations at universities, civic organizations, radio and television shows, and transgender conferences.
- We influence public policy at local, state, and national levels.
For eight years, AEGIS advocated for the rights of transsexual and transgendered people, providing free referrals and information. We (meaning me) responded with personal messages to thousands of letters from often desperate transsexuals and provided the writers with as much free material as we could stuff into a #10 envelope. When a SASE was enclosed we used it; in most cases no stamp was enclosed and we paid the postage.
We (again, meaning mostly me) published a wide variety of print materials, including the acclaimed journal Chrysalis Quarterly, the newsletters AEGIS News and Transgender Treatment Bulletin, and assorted self-help booklets and pamphlets. We also operated a mail-order bookstore from which we sold back issues of our periodicals and books and magazines which we purchased for resale. We operated a 24-hour telephone help line which provided information to trans* people, their families, reporters, and helping professionals. Around 1994 we added an automated help line; while callers could still talk to a volunteer (again, mostly me), they could also listen to hundreds of recorded messages. It was rather like a telephone FAQ line, and it was heavily used until a lightning strike took the system out.
Stacks at the National Transgender Library & Archive. The collection filled two rooms at AEGIS Headquarters. It now resides at the University of Michigan Library.
From 1992 onward we maintained an on-premises trans* library that filled two rooms and was open to the public. In 1994 we named the collection The National Transgender Library & Archive and launched a newsletter dedicated to historical preservation of trans* materials. In 1994 I started what I believe to be the first internet-based news reposting service; this was eventually merged with the Gender Advocacy Internet News feed, which was maintained by Penni Ashe Matz until her death in 2001. Today’s excellent Transgender News Yahoo group is a successor of GAIN.
AEGIS was operated by a Board of Directors; chairs included Marissa Richmond and the late JoAnn Roberts. I was the unpaid Executive Director. Other unpaid staff served briefly; this included Holly Boswell (an editor for Chrysalis) and Dr. Erin Swenson (CFO). The board sought guidance from a 35-member Advisory Board which consisted of notable trans* people and helping professionals of the day.
AEGIS responded in print to defamation of trans* people, writing letters to editors and issuing press releases when appropriate. From our inception we warned about the infamous surgeon John Ronald Brown, who, after he lost his license to practice medicine, performed genital reassignment surgery in nonsterile kitchens and living rooms. In 1998 Brown removed the healthy leg of 79-year-old Philip Bondy; Bondy’s body was found a few days later in a motel room. He had died of gas gangrene. San Diego prosecutor Stacey Running was unable to make heads or tails of why Brown had removed Bondy’s leg until I called and spoke with homicide detective Gary Stovall and told him about what is now called body integrity identity disorder.
We also warned repeatedly about the dangers of injected silicone. I continue to speak about silicone to this day.
AEGIS worked for trans* inclusion in (then) GLB organizations, most of which didn’t yet have transpeople on their radars. We attended Pride events and wrote articles about transsexualism for local and national gay and lesbian magazines and newsletters. In 1992 I spoke to the board of the Atlanta chapter of PFLAG (which was then called Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and gave them materials to pass on to the national office, which, happily, they did. For a short time PFLAG National disseminated AEGIS’ materials, but soon developed their own brochures and booklets. They quickly changed their mission statement and eventually their name to reflect the broader scope of their activities. Since 1992, PFLAG has been a terrific source of support for transpeople and their families.
AEGIS also placed pressure upon The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, asking the organization to provide empirical data to support their policies for limiting access to hormones.
When the necessity arose, AEGIS issued position papers and medical advisory bulletins and distributed public service advertisements for publication in magazines and newsletters. Our medical advisories warned, among other things, about injectable silicone, the high incidence of polycystic ovarian disease in FTMs, the dangers of overuse of human sex hormones, and the importance of regular breast self-examination in both MTF and nonoperated FTM people. Our advisory on electrolysis in the genital area for transsexual women made electrologists aware for the first time of the importance of hair removal before vaginoplasty.
However busy I might have been, I still found time to play my guitar. Here I am with Merissa Sherrill Lynn in 1991 at the Second New Woman Conference. Please forgive me the striped pants. It was the 90s.
AEGIS and the AGE support group were two of the constellation of organizations that founded the Southern Comfort Conference. Organizations throughout the Southeast were invited to the initial planning meeting, and all participated. I provided part of the startup money by pre-paying my registration. The idea for the conference, however, came from Sabrina Marcus, who approached the International Foundation for Gender Education and asked them to start a conference based in the Southeastern U.S. IFGE Executive Director said, no, but traveled with other IFGE personnel to Atlanta to provide support for the conference.
AEGIS played an essential role in the FTM Conference of the Americas; we issued a press release promising $500 to any nonprofit which would match the funds for the purposes of holding a national conference for transmen. San Francisco-based FTM International responded and we sent them a check. AEGIS was too broke to send me to the conference, but we shipped 400 copies of an FTM-themed issue of Chrysalis for distribution at the conference. The issue was edited by anthropologist Jason Cromwell.
AEGIS Presents an Award to Carolyn “Tula” Cossey, 1991
AEGIS was a member of the Congress of Transgender Organizations and a sponsor of the first International Congresses on Cross Dressing, Gender, and Sex Issues.
Related: The Impact of Emerging Technologies on AEGIS